ESSAY-ON THE DEPRESSING REALIZATION THAT, WITH VIRTUALLY EVERY PURCHASE, I AM SUBSIDIZING SLAVERY AND EXPLOITATION
I like to think I’m a good person. I treat people the way I would like to be treated, I obey the law, I eat my vegetables, and I don’t own any slaves. Unfortunately, every time I type out these essays with my trusty Bluetooth keyboard and iPhone, I face the grim realization that though I may not myself engage in any evil activities, I am nonetheless supporting them.
I came away with this conclusion after reading a blog entry by an organization called World Watch, and you can read it by clicking here. It’s the sort of thing that makes me just wish I were comfortable with a life of ignorance, watching my TV, playing with my cell phone, and eating junk food.
(And by the way: just in case that World Watch article doesn't depress you, there are several more about this, such as this article in The Daily Mail)
The trouble with this is, I choose not to be ignorant, and as a result, I see that I live a life in which virtually everything that I own is probably the result of people who work for either nothing or next to nothing. To be a modern consumer is to be a person up North in the U.S. during the time of slavery, saying “this cotton shirt is comfortable…and so cheap!”
In truth, today’s cotton shirt probably carries with it the same depressing ancestry. That cotton came from somewhere, and the folks who picked that cotton didn’t get much. Ditto for those who spun that cotton into fabric, and ditto for those who stitched that fabric into that tee shirt.
Most of us know the equally depressing story of the construction of our televisions, and other electronics. In China, factory workers were getting so depressed at the prospect of a life earning pennies while toiling 12 or more hours a day six or seven days a week that they started leaping off the factory roofs. Instead of paying them a bit more, the factory owners put nets around the buildings; this is progress.
It gets even more depressing upon contemplating the raw materials that go into those electronics, particularly the metals that go into cell phone batteries. Basically, the raw materials for that part of your cell phone are courtesy of a child slave who toils for endless hours in some miserable, Mordor like pit, harvesting rare metals which no doubt leech into his or her skin, ensuring a lifespan of perhaps 35 years.
Though the life of Neolithic humans was short and brutal, there was one definite thing to be said for it: there was a solid awareness of the creature that gave their lives so that these humans could live. This is why they worshipped animals; there was something to be said for viewing these creatures with reverence, for they were essential to the survival of our ancestors.
And in the case of Neolithic humans, it’s important to remember that whatever they killed was, let’s repeat this, essential to their survival. I don’t need a cell phone to survive. It’s one thing to cause death because I’m in danger of starvation; it’s quite another to do this simply because I need to send a tweet.
As for sugar: just Google “Haitian sugar slaves.”
It’s just sobering to realize that so many of the things that give me pleasure—or at least allow me to while away my hours—come as a result of untold global misery. I enjoy these things, but I just wish that there were some way to have them without so much suffering. Besides making me feel complicit in assorted global atrocities, it tends to put a buzzkill on that game of Candy Crush.